In celebration of Black History Month and Minor League Baseball's launch of "The Nine," teams across MiLB are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their franchise.
Black players have held a starring role in every era of Atlanta Braves Triple-A history, from Tommie Aaron, Dusty Baker, and Ralph Garr in the early days of the Richmond Braves in the 1960’s and 70’s, to Gerald Perry, Lonnie Smith, and Tony Tarasco of the 80’s and 90’s Richmond teams, to Stefan Gartrell, Travis Demeritte, and Touki Toussaint of the more recent Gwinnett clubs.
Recognizing the five best Black players in Richmond and Gwinnett’s combined 56-year history is no easy task, but the players below all have one thing in common: they left lasting marks in the Triple-A record books.
Gartrell is the lone entrant on the list from the Gwinnett era. The prolific slugger ranks among Gwinnett’s career leaders in home runs (2nd, 54), doubles (4th, 63), runs (4th, 166), and RBI (4th, 180) since 2009. He bashed 25 long-balls and drove in 91 runs in 116 games during the 2011 season with the G-Braves, earning him selection to the International League Postseason All-Star team. Those 25 clouts are tied for eighth-most in a single season in franchise history.
Gartrell returned to launch 20 homers in 2012 and nine more in 2013 before ultimately calling it a career. Of his 137 career minor league clouts over eight professional seasons, nearly 40% came in a Gwinnett uniform. Despite his prodigious power, the San Francisco, CA native never reached the Majors.
In Richmond’s inaugural year of existence as the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in 1966, Robinson became the franchise’s very first International League Postseason All-Star. The McKeesport, PA native batted .312 with 30 doubles, four triples, 20 home runs, 86 runs, and 79 RBIs in 139 games, helping the R-Braves reach the Governors’ Cup Finals.
To date, Robinson still ranks among franchise single-season leaders in hits (T-3rd, 159), and total bases (7th, 257). He went on to play a 16-year Major League career with the Braves, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1966-83.
Perry’s accomplishments in three seasons with Richmond are numerous. As a Triple-A rookie in 1982, he became the third player in franchise history to hit for the cycle (May 12 vs. Tidewater) and ranked among franchise single-season leaders in RBIs (T-6th, 93), walks (8th, 91), and runs (T-8th, 94). Perry returned to the R-Braves in 1983 and again in 1986, and earned International League Postseason All-Star honors both years, making him one of only three players in franchise history to win twice.
The Savannah, GA native played 353 total games with Richmond, batting .311 (5th-best in franchise history) with 73 doubles, 17 triples, 38 homers, 244 runs, and 238 RBIs. He went on to a 13-year Major League career with the Braves (1983-89), Kansas City Royals (1990), and St. Louis Cardinals (1991-95).
Garr is quite simply the greatest hitter for average in Atlanta Braves Triple-A history, thanks to his franchise-record .356 career batting average with Richmond. He is the only player in franchise history to win two International League Batting Titles, accomplishing the feat in each of his two seasons with the R-Braves (.329 in 1969, franchise-record .386 in 1970). Garr also led the IL in stolen bases both years (63 in 1969, 39 in 1970) as he earned consecutive selections to the IL Postseason All-Star Team.
Following a 13-year Major League career with the Atlanta Braves (1968-75), Chicago White Sox (1976-79), and California Angels (1979-80), Garr returned to Richmond as a coach from 1985-87 and was part of the 1986 Governors’ Cup Championship club. The Monroe, LA native was elected to the IL Hall of Fame in 2008.
The younger brother of baseball icon Hank Aaron, Tommie Aaron became a legend in his own right as the only man in International League history to earn league Most Valuable Player honors and manage a Governors’ Cup champion. The Monroe, AL native hit .309 as the IL MVP in 1967, helping the Richmond Braves capture their first IL pennant. Ten seasons later, he became the league’s first Black manager. In just his second season at the helm, Aaron led Richmond to their first Governors’ Cup Championship in 1978.
Aaron also played 437 games over a seven-year Major League career with the Milwaukee Braves (1962-63) and Atlanta Braves (1968-71). He and Hank still hold the MLB record for most combined home runs by brothers (768, 13 by Tommie and 755 by Hank).
Aaron’s number 23, originally retired by Richmond in 1985 shortly after his passing in 1984, remains retired by Gwinnett. In 2008, he joined Garr in being elected to the IL Hall of Fame.
Albert Hall (1982-83, 1985-86)
Hall is the greatest speedster in Atlanta Braves Triple-A history, ranking among record holders in career stolen bases (1st, 186), triples (2nd, 32), and runs (6th, 302) following his two stints with Richmond. He owns two of the franchise's top four single-season triples totals (franchise-record 15 in 1982, T-4th with 11 in 1983), two of the top five single-season runs totals (franchise-record 120 in 1983, T-5th with 97 in 1982), and three of the top seven single-season steals totals (2nd with 72 in 1986, 4th with 62 in 1982, and T-7th with 46 in 1983).
Hall’s quickness helped him become the second player in franchise history to hit for the cycle on May 3, 1982 at Syracuse. The Birmingham, AL native went on to play parts of nine Major League seasons with Atlanta (1981-88) and Pittsburgh (1989).
Larry Whisenton (1976-81, 1983-85)
Whisenton is the king when it comes to longevity, having played a franchise-record 773 games over parts of nine seasons with Richmond. He was in the R-Braves' Opening Day starting lineup in six of those years (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984).
Though he was never selected to an IL Postseason All-Star team, Whisenton did reach the 100-hit plateau in three different seasons, including a 114-hit campaign as a 21-year-old in 1978 and 121 hits in his final full Triple-A season in 1981. His 657 career hits stood as a franchise record until 2021, when he was surpassed by Gwinnett's Sean Kazmar Jr. (675). In addition to games and hits, Whisenton ranks among the franchise's top five hitters in triples (1st, 46), runs (1st, 392), RBIs (2nd, 308), walks (3rd, 432), at-bats (3rd, 2,505), and stolen bases (4th, 93).
Drafted by Atlanta in the second round in 1975, the St. Louis, MO native went on to a 116-game Major League career with the Braves (1977-79, 1981-82).